Roadtripping the Sea-to-Sky Highway: Whistler and Joffre Lakes

This is a story of when getting obsessed with a Google Images search actually paid off for once.

It’s a trap I fall into all too often as I’m researching trips.  I pull up Google Images and scan through, just to get a general feel for the places I’d like to see.  And I fall in love with a particular view or building, only to find that experiencing it in real life can never live up to the photoshopped, tourist-less, saturated glory of the professional photographer’s lens.

I assumed that was probably the case when I saw a picture of Joffre Lakes.  In fact, once we arrived in Whistler and checked into our hotel, we were on the fence about making the extra hour’s drive up to the park.  I pulled up the picture on my phone and showed the concierge, and asked, “Does it really look just like this??”  When she said yes, I decided we had to give it a try.

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Joffre Lakes is a must-see part of any Whistler & Sea-to-Sky Highway itinerary

I’d say it paid off.

To be honest, my pictures of Joffre Lakes don’t even do justice to how gorgeous and vibrant the colors were.  And I’m so glad that we took a chance on it.  Our entire drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway route and night in the Whistler area was beautiful, and a perfect complement to our weekend sampling the best Vancouver had to offer.  Even though it was only about 24 hours total, we didn’t feel rushed or cheated, and I’d recommend this anytime as an important Vancouver itinerary bolt-on.

I’ve been kind of obsessed with driving the Sea-to-Sky Highway ever since seeing pictures of it on Pinterest, so as soon as we booked our awesome cheap ticket to Vancouver I started making the case that we needed to drive up to Whistler as well.  Luckily, @FareWhispers bought my argument.

Our basic Sea-to-Sky Highway route:

  • Picked up the rental car and left Vancouver early morning, stopping in downtown for breakfast
  • Hit the Sea-to-Sky Highway, stopping at:
    • Porteau Cove Provincial Park
    • Shannon Falls
    • Fergie’s
    • We didn’t, but you could fit in Brandywine Falls
  • Whistler Olympic Village (checked in at the hotel)
  • Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
  • Nairn Falls
  • Random side-of-the-road photo op stops
  • Back to Whistler for the evening/night

We landed in Vancouver and got to our near-airport hotel around 12:30am (so 3:30am our time), and just crashed.  But of course, the time difference got us and we were up pretty early, got our rental car, and headed out through downtown Vancouver and onto the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

Fuel up on coffee & pastries for the drive

Thierry in downtown Vancouver has the best French pastries & coffee

My non-negotiable was stopping to get gooood coffee.  After a bit of research and some advice from the TripAdvisor forum, we walked into Thierry in downtown Vancouver, right as they opened at 7:30 on the dot.  What I hadn’t realized is that Thierry is an AMAZING French patisserie, everything from traditional croissants, pain au chocolate, and macaroons, to gourmet chocolate.  And the lady who helped me steered me toward the almond croissant, which was possibly the best thing I’ve ever had and now I’m obsessed.  Get the almond croissant.

Driving across the Lion's Gate Bridge on a gorgeous day

Leaving Vancouver & heading toward Whistler

We were blessed with a beautiful clear, warm day for our drive, so everywhere we looked the views were picture-worthy.  Even just driving out of downtown Vancouver to hop on the highway made our jaws drop.  Plus, I’m a sucker for a good bridge.

The Sea-to-Sky Highway route has tons of views & tons to do

One of the biggest things about this roadtrip is that you shouldn’t rush it.  You need to be safe finding places to pull off and take pictures, but there are tons of opportunities.

Porteau Cove Provincial Park

Make a quick stop at Porteau Cove Provincial Park on your way to Whistler

Our first planned stop was maybe 15 minutes in, at Porteau Cove Provincial Park.  This was just a lovely little area on the lake, with the mountains in the background framing up calm blue water.

Shannon Falls

The easy 10-minute walk to Shannon Falls is a great chance to stretch your legs on the way to Whistler
Photo cred: Fare Whispers

After spending around 20 minutes at Porteau Cove, we hit the road again, stopping just another 15 minutes up the road at Shannon Falls.  While you can get a glimpse of the top of the falls from the trailhead, an easy 10-minute walk takes you right up to two different viewing platforms.  It’s a challenging falls to photograph just due to lighting, but worth getting out and stretching your legs.  Parking is pretty limited and challenging here if the weather is at all decent, so just be prepared for that.

Lunch at Fergie’s!

Hopefully you’re hungry by now, because a stop at Fergie’s (only 20 minutes up the road) is a must if it’s a pretty day. I have no idea what they do in bad weather, but it was warm with a light breeze as we sat at the picnic tables and waited for our eggs benedict to come out.  Mine had goat cheese, roasted tomato, and avocado, while @FareWhispers had one with smoked salmon.  Both were totally delish.

View of Whistler Olympic Village...a great day's itinerary to tack onto your Vancouver trip

Drive up to Joffre Lakes

Another 40 minutes up the road and you’re pulling into Whistler Olympic Village.  We got checked in to our room at the Delta Hotel Whistler Village Suites and—after ascertaining that Joffre Lakes was worth the drive—climbed back into the car.

Parking was at a premium when we arrived at the trailhead, but quite a few people were leaving and people just parked along the road as well.  It was an easy 10-minute walk to the first lake (which was as far as we went), and I got so excited as soon as I could see a glimpse of the neon turquoise water through the trees.

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Pictures can't do justice to Joffre Lakes' unreal colors...this is a can't-miss part of any Sea-to-Sky Highway route
Photo cred: Fare Whispers

Amazing, right?!

And these pictures don’t remotely do it justice.  The sun kept moving behind the clouds and then peeking out, and it was like night and day in terms of the effect of the colors.  There was a little crowd here but we were able to pop up and take pictures without too many people in the way.  It was really beautiful and we were glad we drove the extra hour up.

If you have extra time, you should definitely spend more time at Joffre Lakes, because they’re just that—lakes, plural.  We literally just hiked like 10 minutes to the first lake, which is beautiful, no question.  But the other two take a bit more hiking and, from what everyone there said, are even more beautiful and don’t have quite the same tourist crowds.

The drive to and from Joffre Lakes is full of plenty of unplanned stops

We stopped several times on the drive back from Joffre Lakes when something caught our eye.  There was a deep valley with rushing sea green water that we just had to stop, climb the fence, and take pictures of.  There was a really cool farm and store combo that sold honey, jam, and super healthy food (as well as homemade root beer).

Nairn Falls

Make sure to build an hour of daylight into your drive to hike Nairn Falls...it's definitely worth it!

Taking a break on the walk to Nairn Falls, between Whistler and Joffre Lakes

We also stopped and hiked to Nairn Falls on the way back.  It’s not a challenging hike, though seemed a bit longer than the signs indicated.  This was peaceful and the water was so gorgeous.  That dog is living his best life.

Nairn Falls, between Whistler and Joffre Lakes

Nairn Falls has a lot of power in it, and was my favorite falls we saw the whole time.  I never get tired of the color of that water.  Just be careful, and don’t climb the fence to get pictures…a tourist died there earlier this year by falling into the water, and another one was lucky and was rescued after a couple hours.  It’s just not worth it to get a closer picture.

Whistler Olympic Village

Whistler Olympic Village is so charming

Finally we made it back to Whistler for the night.  We wandered the village for a while and then got a big dinner (including a big glass of wine and fried goat cheese balls with honey), but crashed early due to the time difference and our eventful day.

Fair trade coffee in Whistler

Once I got my coffee the next morning we were on our way back down the Sea-to-Sky Highway, eager to explore all that Vancouver had to offer!

What did we miss in Whistler that was a must-do?  Has anyone hiked all of the Joffre Lakes??

What to read next:

48 Hours in Vancouver: Food, Wine, Beer, & Nature!

What to see along the Sea-to-Sky Highway route...from Vancouver to Whistler to Joffre Lakes

Driving itinerary for a day on the Sea-to-Sky Highway...where to stop, take pics, eat, hike

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